Appropriately, it was Bastille Day, and Vive La Difference in racing was brought home very powerfully watching the end of season post race celebrations at Shatin on Sunday as the curtain came down on the most successful racing season in Hong Kong racing history.
The difference between Hong Kong racing fans and those in every other racing nation in the world was stark- and it was there for all to see. In Hong Kong there is a very obvious and blatant sense of happiness- and pride of ownership- among its racing fans, appreciative and supportive of the two shows on turf the HKJC presents to them each week.
The HKJC, unlike its counterparts in many other racing jurisdictions, and in particular Australia, does not take its customers and racing fans for granted. And Hong Kong racing fans know it. There is so much tangible evidence for that. The KPIs tell a convincing and compelling narrative of a business and sport which exudes success and thrives on setting benchmarks and challenges itself successfully to exceed its own targets.
On the one hand, the stories about turnover and attendances are the stuff that dreams are made of for every other racing nation. The stories are real and told with no hint of hubris.
A new high of HK$107.9 billion up a seasonal 5.8% representing a third consecutive seasonal record high and a staggering 79.7% increase in turnover since the 2005/2006 season, sends the unequivocal message that the HKJC is doing plenty right.
It’s a message that is clearly being warmly embraced by its racing fans- again with pride of ownership-, and who are further voting with their feet by their record 2.071 million attendances – up 2.6% on the previous season and a third consecutive crash through the two million barrier this season.
But as with any success story in any business, sport or life, there’s always more much more- a mix of the obvious, tangible and overt, and the not so obvious and more “behind the scenes”, less recognized factors driving the success of Hong Kong racing.
Confidence can be both tangible and intangible, but it is most definitely contagious. Integrity plays a pivotal role as does management and administration. The integrity of Hong Kong racing epitomises how the “level playing field” can work successfully in an operational and regulatory sense. It does not tolerate compromise. It abhors manipulation and criminality and its punishment regimes are a model for deterrent. It works so darn well that it is difficult to finger the last time Hong Kong racing made it to the front pages of the print media or led the electronic news bulletins for all the wrong reasons. How much easier is it to manage and operate an industry or business that is free of the weekly or almost daily scandals that have become part of the landscape of Australian racing?
A perfect segue to the difference that leadership makes to any organization or business…
The throwaway line that the business- and the buck- stops with the leader of a business is never truer than in racing. Getting the right leader and leadership structure for racing is one of the biggest challenges facing racing.
We pump up the tyres of HKJC Chief Executive Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges for very good reasons. He is a leader par excellence. The “customer come first” and “customer is always right” mantra is engrained into the DNA of the HKJC. It is on show in every aspect of HKJC decision making, thanks to the unshakeable commitment to this simple, but essential philosophy of its Chief Executive.
As he recently said, “It is not for us to rest on our laurels. Our goal is to further improve, even though the economic circumstances for next season we think are a little bit more challenging. But we always have an optimistic outlook for the future”.
It encapsulates the mindset of the HKJC and its Chief Executive. And the changes in structure and manpower which have commences and transition into the new season suggest that the HKJC is already well prepared to make the hard decisions and position itself for the challenges of the future.
It is this determination to innovate, embrace technology and world’s best practice which have made the HKJC a role model for other racing jurisdictions. A genuine change agent can only be one who has a successful track record.
And here, there is no better evidentiary example than the success of the Happy Wednesday initiative at Happy Valley. The Happy Wednesday brand- a very real bona fide brand attracting a number of new business and media channels- has swiftly swept through the crucial socially mobile twenties and thirties demographic searching for alternative entertainment options to the conventional mainstream offerings.
Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley has quickly become a “must go to” and “must do” item on the social calendar of the twenty and thirtysomething Hong Kongers and on the wish list of tourists. To say that it has re-energised racing and created a powerful marketing tool for the sport is an understatement. Happy Wednesday and all that goes with it is the missing link in what racing jurisdictions have been trying so desperately hard to achieve from a marketing and branding perspective for the past generation or so.
It’s just another shining example of what the HKJC has been able to achieve and introduce by adopting an “outside looking in” approach which has been the hallmark of so many innovative initiatives which have delivered in spades to Hong Kong racing- and with great pride which creates a mutual admiration society- and teamwork.